Daydreaming about ‘pure Americana’

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, November 15, 2017

By Lisa Johns

“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”—Dwight D. Eisenhower

Living in town has its advantages and disadvantages. While I am close to the things that I love — my church, the public library, the farmer’s market and downtown — I am also close to the fire station, the police station and the path of huge trucks making their way to Interstate 64 or Interstate 75.

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Noise aside, I do appreciate the fact that at any given emergency, I will have the help of these agencies. Litter is also a problem, especially on the Boone Avenue side of our yard. Despite this, I would not change where I live.

I enjoy my morning walks. I notice the changing of the seasons in town and through the alleyways I frequent on these walks. In the alleys, the smell of honeysuckle in the early spring permeates the air.

Later on, the winding morning glories wrap their tendrils around the low branches closing the leaves with their vines like tiny hands. In early summer, dots of red and blue arrive against the white of the picket fences announcing the arrival of blackberries. Regardless of my love for them, my fear of snakes is greater than my need to pick the berries.

Looking at the buildings and the familiar faces I see, I have realized what creatures of habit that we are. In fact, probably because of my age and the progression of “hot flashes,” I am awakened each morning around 4 to the sound of the train whistle. The sound is not disturbing to me, but rather, it is a comfort.

Growing up in Ashland, the C&O Railroad provided transportation to Ohio and West Virginia. Armco Steel Corporation had tracks that moved steel to the northeast. My grandfather took the train to Florida each year to visit his sister. In 1969 my father took us to see the funeral train go through Ashland carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was a day I have never forgotten, watching the huge train come through town.

Trains were an integral part of Winchester’s history. So much so that in 1967, Irvin Kershner decided to direct a movie filmed throughout Central Kentucky titled “The Flim Flam Man” starring George C. Scott and Michael Sarrazin.

Impressed by Kentucky, Kershner was known to have remarked about our town and region, “It’s pure Americana.” The Sphar building was used as the backdrop for the pigeon drop scene with Slim Pickens.

The “See Jess and Pay Less” sign painted on the side of a building was a memorable advertisement for the Snowden Insurance Company.

Kershner would become a director known all over Hollywood. In 1980, he would become an icon with his direction of the Star Wars episode, “The Empire Strikes Back,” the second of the Star Wars films.

The Sphar building holds an iconic place in our community, as does the Guerrant Clinic, Kerr Building, Leeds Theatre and Clark County Courthouse. There are buildings that support our area and its legacy.

Recently, on “Kentucky Life” on KET, the program focused on Mount Sterling. The city is in the process of renovating its train depot to provide year-round space for their farmer’s market.

As I walk this morning, I, too, can envision the Sphar building bustling with activity. I can smell fresh baked goods and the brewed coffee that permeates the crisp fall air.

I can imagine a kitchen where young mothers can learn about feeding their children healthy foods. I can envision hundreds utilizing the space and purchasing the bounty from our local farmers.

Kershner was right about “pure Americana” and our iconic buildings, our cobbled brick streets, and our legacy. This morning, that train whistle never sounded sweeter and full of promise.

Lisa Johns is a former teacher and librarian as well as an activist on revitalizing downtown Winchester.